CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 8 Auburn

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2013 record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (1st in West division)
2013 postseason: BCS title game vs. Florida State (34-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 2/No. 2
Head coach: Gus Malzahn (21-5 overall; 12-2 in one year at Auburn)
Offensive coordinator: Rhett Lashlee (second season); Dameyune Craig (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 1st rushing offense (328.3 ypg); 106th passing offense (173 ypg); 11th total offense (501.3 ypg); 12th scoring offense (39.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 7
Defensive coordinator: Ellis Johnson (second season); Charlie Harbison (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 62nd rushing defense (162.1 ypg); 100th passing defense (258.6 ypg); 86th total defense (420.7 ypg); 48th scoring defense (24.7 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Auburn, Ala.
Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451; grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
No one was able to control the Tigers’ powerful rushing attack and, even with the departure of its leading rusher, that’s expected to continue on into 2014 and the second season in Gus Malzahn‘s fast-paced, relentless offense.  Having Nick Marshall, expected to be much improved in the passing-game aspect, in his second season as a starter should help soften the blow that was running back Tre Mason‘s departure for the NFL.  As AU goes from the hunter to the hunted, it’ll be incumbent on Marshall to take that next step, one his head coach feels he’s ready to do.

THE BAD
When you have as magical ride as AU did last season there’s not a whole heck of a lot of bad going on, but the defense was, at the very least, suspect during that run to Pasadena.  They were in the bottom half of the country in yards allowed per game, although they were in the top half in the most important stat: points allowed.  That, though, was only good for eighth in the SEC.  In fairness, it was the Tigers’ first season under coordinator Ellis Johnson, so the expectation is that just based on familiarity with the scheme the defense will improve.  The good news is that there’s really nowhere for that group to go but up, especially as it relates to the rest of the SEC.  There’s also the little matter of the schedule as AU has conference road games scheduled for Mississippi State (Oct. 11), Ole Miss (Nov. 1), Georgia (Nov. 15) and Alabama (Nov. 29) to go along with a non-conference tilt at underrated Kansas State.  AU won’t sneak up on anyone this season, so they will get every team’s best, most concentrated shot, especially on the road.

THE UNKNOWN
(Writer’s note: pardon me while I repeat myself)
There’s no way around it, no way to tap-dance whilst whistling past the biggest question when it comes to AU football in 2014 — did the Tigers use a couple of years (decades?) worth of luck in their magical, unexpected, inexplicable ride to the BCS title game?  Even the biggest homer out on The Plains would have to admit that the Tigers were “fortunate” to end the season where they did.  Of their 12 wins, six were decided by eight points or less.  In four games — Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama — they were trailing with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Georgia (“Prayer at Jordan-Hare“) and Alabama (“Kick-Six“) wins immediately earned nicknames for the sheer improbability of the endings.  There’s little doubt that Malzahn has, very quickly, turned AU around from the three-win embarrassment that was the final season of Gene Chizik in 2012.  How much was sheer luck, the kind of once-a-decade (or two) happenstance that simply can’t repeat itself?  Regardless of the answer — I’m guessing the talent is sufficient so as to make the question mostly moot — Malzahn’s Tigers will be one of the more fascinating squads to watch throughout the 2014 season.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Alabama Nov. 29
As Auburn and Alabama are expected to be the class of the SEC West, it only makes sense to put the season-ending Iron Bowl in this slot.  Last year’s dramatic, last-second win over the Tide that propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game was one of the most exhilarating and improbable in the storied history of the rivalry.  UA will have revenge on its mind as the Tide looks to get back on the national championship stage after its one-year sabbatical in 2013.  More than likely, the winner of this game will claim the West’s spot in the SEC championship game and, perhaps, a spot in the four-team playoff.  So, yes, this will be one of the more anticipated games of the year — provided both teams can make it to the game unscathed, of course.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Nick Marshall
Marshall’s first season as a starter wasn’t statistically overwhelming — less than 2,000 yards passing, just 14 touchdown passes — but it was deadly in its efficiency. Marijuana citation aside, Marshall is said to have had a very good offseason, improving his throwing mechanics and becoming more and more comfortable in Gus Malzahn‘s offense. If true, and if the passing aspect of his game improves — as evidenced by his 1,068 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, he’ll continue to get his on the ground — that could prove to be bad news for the SEC in general and the West specifically. Thanks to the departure of their leading rusher, the Tigers will likely lean even more heavily on both Marshall’s arm and legs; as far as his Heisman chances go, that’s certainly good news.  Hell, one teammate has even already called his stiff-armed shot for Marshall, so he’s got that going for him.  Which is nice.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Tulane losing QB Devin Powell to transfer

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 16:  Devin Powell #1 of the Tulane Green Wave drops back to pass against the Houston Cougars at Yulman Stadium on October 16, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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Being buried on the depth chart will ofttimes lead a player to move on and search for playing time elsewhere, and that’s what appears to be happening to the quarterback position at Tulane.

According to a report from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the newspaper has learned that Devin Powell has decided to transfer out of the Green Wave football program.  It also appears a destination for the redshirt season is known: Nicholls State.

As the Colonels play at the FCS level, Powell would be able to play immediately in what will be his final season of collegiate eligibility.

For what it’s worth, Tulane officials have yet to address Powell’s status with the team moving forward.

Over the past four seasons, Powell started four games.  He finished his Green Wave career by completing 51 percent of his passes (116-229) for 1,204 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.  The New Orleans product also rushed for minus-43 yards on 42 carries, and was sacked 21 times.

According to the Times-Picayune, Powell exited the spring third on the Green Wave’s depth chart.

San Diego State RB Marcus Stamps ‘probably’ sidelined for all of 2016

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  The Aztec Warrior mascot of the San Diego State Aztecs awaits the opening ceremonies prior to playing the Mountain West Championship game against the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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The bad news for San Diego State is that its backfield has taken a hit.  The good news?  They still have Donnell Pumphrey.

On the negative front, head coach Rocky Long indicated that, more than likely, Marcus Stamps will miss the entire 2016 season.  The redshirt junior running back recently underwent surgery on his back, the nature of which wasn’t specified by the coach.

“He won’t be back this season, probably,” Long said according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “He felt something in his back during spring practice. They kept checking him out, then they suggested he get it operated on.”

Stamps played in the first eight games of the 2015 season before a knee injury essentially sidelined him the the remaining three regular season games plus two in the postseason — the Mountain West Championship game and Hawaii Bowl.  During the time he was healthy, Stamps ran for 33 yards on 16 carries.

As long as Pumphrey is healthy, though, the Aztecs’ running game should be in fine shape.

Pumphrey’s 1,651 yards rushing were seventh nationally last year.  Entering his senior season, Pumphrey needs just 318 yards to surpass Marshall Faulk (4,589 from 1991-93) for the most in school history.

Ex-Alabama LB Christian Bell announces transfer to Wisconsin

11 Sep 1999: A cheerleader of the Wisconsin Badgers runs onto the field with a Wisconson Banner during the game against the Ball State Cardinals at the Camp Randall Sradium in Madison, Wisconsin. The Badgers defeated the Cardinals 50-10.
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In last year’s opener, Christian Bell suited up for Alabama in their opener against Wisconsin.  For this year’s opener, he’ll be on that Big Ten team’s sideline as they take on yet another school from the SEC.

On his Twitter account Thursday, Bell announced that he has decided to transfer into the Wisconsin football program.  Over this past weekend, the linebacker announced via the same social media site that he would be transferring from the Tide.

Barring the unexpected, Bell will be forced to sit out the 2016 season and thus won’t be in uniform when UW opens against LSU at Lambeau Field.  Then beginning in 2017, though, he would have four seasons of eligibility remaining.

Bell took a “grayshirt” for the 2015 season, ultimately enrolling in classes at UA this past January. The Birmingham, Ala., native participated in spring practice with the Tide this year.

A three-star recruit according to 247Sports.com, Bell was rated as the No. 19 weakside defensive end in the country and the No. 17 player at any position in the state of Alabama.

WVU’s Larry Jefferson arrested on drug charge, no longer listed on roster

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 7:  The West Virginia Mountaineers mascot The Mountaineer yells a cheer during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners September 7, 2013 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated West Virginia 16-7. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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It appears the brief but up-and-down career of Larry Jefferson in Morgantown has come to an abrupt end.

The former junior college transfer had been suspended from participating in West Virginia’s spring practices for violating unspecified team rules.  Now, WV MetroNews is reporting, the defensive lineman was arrested late Tuesday morning and charged with drug possession. “Jefferson was stopped on Clay Street in Morgantown as officers were investigating a brandishing incident at South University Plaza in Morgantown,” the website wrote, and was subsequently found to be carrying small amounts of cocaine and marijuana.

According to the Dominion Post, Jefferson was holding .6 grams of coke and one gram of weed.

While WVU officials have yet to comment publicly on the situation, Jefferson’s name has been removed from the Mountaineers’ online roster.  Jefferson had not been reinstated from his spring suspension, but, prior to this incident, he had been expected to be on the field for the start of summer camp early next month and be a part of WVU’s line rotation this season as a pass-rush specialist.

After coming to WVU following two seasons at a Mississippi JUCO, Jefferson played in nine games for the Mountaineers last season.