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)

UNLV goes Ivy in replacing RBs coach poached by North Carolina

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 12:  Members of UNLV Rebels marching band perform in the stands during UNLV's game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 69-66 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Raided by the ACC, UNLV has officially turned its eyes to the Ivy League for its coaching replacement.

Travis Burkett, the football program has announced, has been hired the Rebels’ running backs coach.  Burkett will replace DeAndre Smith, who left last week for a job at North Carolina.

Smith had been with Tony Sanchez‘s program for just three months or so, coming to Las Vegas by way of Purdue.

The past 10 seasons, Burkett served as an assistant at Cornell.  Prior to that, he was a graduate assistant at Bucknell.

This will be Burkett’s first job at any capacity at the FBS level.  His new employer added the following in announcing his addition:

At UNLV, Burkett inherits a rushing attack that stood 15th in the nation last fall with 241.5 yards per game, which ranked fourth in program history and was the most since 1979. All three of the team’s top rushers return in 2017.

Vandy turns to familiar face to fill coaching role of assistant fighting cancer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 22:  Josh Crawford #22 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee State Tigers scored by teammate Trent Sherfield #10 during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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With an assistant fighting a significant health issue, Derek Mason has turned to someone very familiar with the Vanderbilt football program to fill the coaching void.

Vandy confirmed Monday that Warren Belin has been hired as the Commodores’ outside linebackers coach. Belin will, at least temporarily, replace Osia Lewis, who stepped down from his job as he battles liver cancer. Lewis will transition into an of-field role within the program as he fights the disease.

The announcement came on the same day Vandy kicked off spring practice.

From 2002 through 2009, Belin was Vandy’s linebacker’s coach under Bobby Johnson. He was at Wake Forest in the same role from 2013-15.

Last season, he was with the Demon Deacons in an off-field role as director of high school relations.

Blocked from Pitt and Syracuse, Gus Edwards’ transfer from Miami to Rutgers is official

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Gus Edwards #7 of the Miami Hurricanes rushes for a touchdown during a game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Sunlife Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In opting to leave Miami in late January, Gus Edwards was restricted by the university from transferring to two of his top choices in Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they were on this coming season’s schedule. A little over a month later, the Staten Island native, who wanted to transfer and move closer to home as he was a new father, has found his new college football home in the same area of the country.

On its official Twitter account earlier Monday, Rutgers announced that Edwards has transferred into the Scarlet Knights football program. As Edwards will be coming in as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

The upcoming season will be the running back’s final year of eligibility.

Edwards was third on the team this past season in rushing with 290 yards. For his Hurricanes career, the 6-1, 230-pound back ran for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries.

A foot injury suffered in summer camp cost Edwards the entire 2015 season. He received a medical redshirt for that season.

Mississippi State announces contract extension for Dan Mullen

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 5:  Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates with fans after the end of an NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State beat the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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With its Egg Bowl rivals knee/neck-deep in controversy — and with said rival reportedly trying to bring it down as well at one point — Mississippi State has taken the time to put a positive face on the current state of its football program.

The Bulldogs announced Monday night that they have reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with head football coach Dan Mullen.  The new deal means Mullen is signed through February of 2021.

According to the school, Mullen’s financial package will be $4.5 million for 2017.  Mullen was paid $4.2 million in 2016, a figure that was seventh in the SEC according to USA Today‘s salary database.

“I am very thankful to the University and athletic administration for their belief in me,” Mullen, the subject of myriad coaching carousel rumors the last handful of years, said in a statement. “We have built a special program over the last eight years, creating a culture where winning is expected while achieving that in the toughest division in college football. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I am truly excited about the direction we are heading as a program. This extension allows my family a long-term future here in Starkville, a place we are proud to call home.”

Since taking over as MSU’s coach in 2009, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 61-42 record overall and 29-35 in conference play.  In those eight seasons, the best divisional finish was second in 2014.  In the other seven seasons, they were either fifth (five times) or fourth (twice) in the SEC West.

The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game each of the past seven seasons, the longest such streak in school history.  They’re also 5-3 against Ole Miss under Mullen.

“Dan has brought unprecedented success to Bulldog football and is one of the elite coaches in the country,” athletic director John Cohen said. “From a school-record seven straight bowl games to our performance in the classroom, he continues to raise the standard of excellence.”